Grammar for Fiction Writers: Busy Writer's Guides Book (2014)

Part II. Knowing What Your Words Mean and What They Don’t

Chapter 7. Imaginary Words and Phrases

At first, this chapter might seem similar to the chapter on words that are misused. But here’s the difference: This lesson covers words and phrases that don’t actually exist or that mean the opposite of what we’re trying to say. We use them, thinking they’re real, but we’re actually just hitting on a mutation of the real thing.


“I could of finished that ten-ounce steak if I wanted to, but I’m watching my waistline.”

This mistake crops up when people write the same way they speak. When we speak, we often slur could’ve (the contraction of could have) so that it sounds like could of.

Of can be used correctly in many different ways, but this isn’t one of them. You might be able to get away with it in speech (and in your dialogue), but not in the rest of your writing.


Irregardless isn’t a real word. People who say this usually mean regardless.

Regardless means “showing or having no regard for something, in spite of or without concern for the advice given.” When you act regardless of something, you’re ignoring that thing.

“You might think that way is best. Regardless, I’m going to do it my way.”

He acted regardless of the consequences.


Some people will try to argue that this is a regional thing. But it isn’t a regional thing—it’s an I-don’t-understand-that-what-I’m-saying-is-the-opposite-of-what-I-actually-mean thing.

I couldn’t care less = There is no situation in which I could have less concern for, care for, or interest in whatever I was just talking about.

I couldn’t care less whether he lives or dies. He’s a jerk.

I couldn’t care less if you throw that out. I never liked it anyway.

I could care less = I still care a little because I could care a little less than I currently do.

No one says “I could care less” and means what it actually means. What they really mean to say is “I couldn’t care less.”


Intensive means “extreme” or “very great” or “to a high degree.”

For all intensive purposes, the watch was broken.

Does that mean the watch doesn’t work when you mountain climb or deep sea dive, but it works fine if you want to check the time when you’re at work?

Unless you’re meaning that the situation you’re talking about is intense (in other words, extreme), what you mean to write is for all intents and purposes.

For all intents and purposes means “in every practical sense” or “in every practical way.”


Yeah…that’s not a word.

Supposedly means “to assume or accept something as true when there are no facts to support it.”

Supposedly she cheated on her husband, but neither of them are willing to talk about what happened.

Supposably is another example that we should be careful about trying to spell the way we speak.